February 4, 2010

Going Green: Saving Money while Saving the Planet, One Meeting at a Time

Despite what Kermit the Frog might think, it can be easy to be green, especially when it comes to planning environmentally friendly meetings. Corporate social responsibility is a hot topic right now in the business world, and since meetings are a highly visible reflection of your company, they have the potential to help make or break your firm’s reputation in this area. More and more companies are introducing sustainability practices into their corporate culture and meetings are ideally suited to assist with this goal.

Here are some helpful tips to help green your meetings:
· Consider the impact of attendee’s travel on the environment when making site selection decisions. Choose locations that are centrally located and easy to reach with minimal air or car travel as the first step to reducing your meeting’s carbon footprint. Is the destination on a train or rapid transit line, or are there public transportation options that would make it easy for attendees to reach the meeting?
· Consider including green criteria into your site selection/RFP process. Simply adding in questions about the location’s sustainability and green practices can assist you with determining which location would be a better fit for your own green initiatives. Sometimes, by you asking for this, it can cause a hotel to rethink how they conduct their own operations. Consider asking your hotel/convention center to: Provide compostable plastic cups and disposable cutlery; offer onsite recycling for paper, plastic and aluminum in the meeting space for attendees’ use; serve food and beverage in bulk, including bowls or dispensers of sugar, sweetener and cream vs. packets; replace water bottles with water coolers.
· Go Vegetarian: Replace one or more meat-based meals with vegetarian, locally grown or sourced entrees to both save you money and reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, especially at lunches, these lighter meals tend to rejuvenate attendees rather than make them sleepy and lethargic. Work with the culinary staff, and consider doing a tasting of a variety of options prior to making your final choice. Many hotels now have wonderfully prepared vegetarian options on their banquet menus already. While you’re at it, ask the hotel their policy about reusing or donating your leftover food to local charities.
· Whenever possible, go paperless. Consider creating your program brochures and promotional materials as online documents, rather than printed pieces. Many groups have found little to no problem with replacing their promotional and program materials and, with the rise in use of social media, the ability to market your meeting online makes these types of materials ideally suited. Instead of producing conference handouts, load speaker handouts onto your website and grant access to conference attendees in advance so they print only the materials they want or need. I recommend you send an email with a direct link to the materials and keep the materials online for a specific period of time after the conference.
· Rethink your own policies and ways of doing things. Instead of producing signs that will be used just once and then discarded, rethink how you use signage. If your budget allows, consider replacing signs with plasma screens placed in high traffic areas with continuously looped slides promoting events, thanking sponsors, acknowledging exhibitors, etc. If you must print signs, use generic logos so they can be reused. Ask your sign maker to print signs on both sides so you can use a sign for one function and reuse it for another. Switch from bottled water to water coolers or water pitchers. Recycle name badge holders and lanyards.
· Take some time to sit down with your coworkers to brainstorm and think of ways you can reduce both your waste and your carbon footprint. Set a goal of evaluating your meetings with an eye toward making your meetings greener each and every time you plan one. You’ll find you can save money while saving the planet, one meeting at a time.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

According to the CDC and the World Health Organization, we are primed for a strong season of Swine Flu, and it will peak in mid-October. I have a conference for 1000 international attendees the third week of October, so I had already begun to think about how this might affect my conference. If you have any meetings during this upcoming flu season, have you given any thought to how this might impact your meeting?

Here are some preventative measures you can and should take:

  • Consider the impact a health crisis would have on your meeting in particular, financial implications if attendance declines because of fear of travel, travel restrictions set by local health authorities on in a worse case if your meeting is cancelled due to an outbreak
  • Develop a Response Plan: What steps will you take if this happens before your meeting? What if there’s an outbreak at your meeting? How will you handle sick attendees, employees, speakers or entertainers? What is the hotel’s response plan in case of an outbreak? The CDC estimates that in the height of a pandemic, businesses should count on up to 40% of employees staying home for up to two weeks. What impact would this have on your meeting if there was an outbreak among the hotel staff?
  • Communicate with your attendees to make sure they are provided with the most accurate information possible, making sure to use the CDC or WHO as your two main sources of information to avoid media hyperbole. Keeping your attendees updated in advance on the status of the outbreak, your plans to help prevent and lessen the spread onsite, and steps they can take to prevent getting ill is key to helping allay their fears. Consider becoming a friend of the CDC on Facebook so you will get updates and alerts as soon as they are issued.
  • Mitigate your losses as best you can; purchasing event cancellation insurance in advance can protect you in case of significant declines in attendance or outright cancellation of your event. Google event cancellation insurance for firms providing this insurance.
  • Advise your attendees to get vaccinated against H1N1, and remind them to wash their hands and cover their coughs, while you consider including hand sanitizer and Kleenex packets in their conference bags, and post signs reminding them to follow proper sanitation procedures.
  • In the best case scenario your meeting won’t be affected by H1N1 and you’ll have a plan in place that will work for the next outbreak or illness that threatens to strike your meeting. In the meantime, take care of yourself; listen to your mother and WASH YOUR HANDS!